Kyle Petty claims he will be on vacation this weekend.
But many people wouldn’t believe that as the NASCAR Nextel Cup driver prepares to race in the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series’ Food City 250 on Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway.
"For me it’s like being a professional golfer and shooting a round of golf to relax," said Petty, who has a week off from the grueling 37-race Cup schedule. "That is the way I look at it."
Petty, who is currently No. 28 in the Nextel point standings, will run a Porsche in his eighth career Rolex Sports Car Series race with 21-year-old teammate Gunnar Jeannette.
"I just love road racing, and that is how simple it is," Petty said. "Every opportunity I have, I have gone out and done it. It gives me a chance to enjoy three or four days and challenge myself physically and mentally on a totally different type of circuit, with totally different level of drivers who are the best road racers in the world."
Petty has three off weeks in the Cup schedule this season but said he wants to be racing every weekend.
"I grew up in a family known for oval racing, but I loved to watch sports car racing," said Petty, who is a third-generation driver and drove his first full Cup schedule in 1981. "We only had Riverside (Calif.) as a road race (back then)."
Petty, 44, has driven at PIR several times in his career with the latest coming last Nov. 2 when he finished 35th in the Cup race. This time he will have to get used to a 1.51-mile road course that zigzags through the infield at PIR.
"In all the years I don’t think I have ever paid that much attention to the infield area," Petty said. "That’s someplace I didn’t want to be when I was in a Nextel Cup car, out running the road course part of the track. I am going to have to depend on talking to some of the other drivers in the series."
Petty, whose son Adam was killed May 12, 2000, during practice for a race at New Hampshire International Speedway, always races his son’s No. 45 car.
"The 45 number is Adam’s number, I have always said that," said Petty, who will run the No. 45 at PIR this weekend. "If you look over the door on the car I run (in Cup) I don’t have my name on the car. The way I look at it, when Adam’s accident happened I got out of my No. 44 car and drove the 45. For me, anytime I see the 45 car, that is Adam’s car."
Petty’s love for sport car racing has given him ideas of owning a Grand American team.
"I would love to own a Grand American car and run in the Grand American division," Petty said. "I would love to start a team. We have toyed with the idea for the last 12 to 18 months. If I can get the Nextel Cup put together and stabilized that is the next thing on our plate."
PIT STOP: The Food City 250 will feature four local drivers, including Mike Borkowski (Scottsdale), Mike Fitzgerald (Fountain Hills), Didier Theys (Scottsdale) and Darren Law (Phoenix). In the other race Saturday, the Grand-Am Cup Sport Touring 200, Jason Briedis (Chandler) and Steve Pfeffer (Scottsdale) will compete. John Schreiner (Coolidge) will race in Friday’s Phoenix Grand Sport 200.
Food City 250 What: Grand American Road Racing event, featuring the Rolex Sports Series Daytona Prototypes When: Today-Saturday Where: Phoenix International Raceway TV: 6 p.m. Saturday (Speed Channel)
Call (602) 252-2227 or 1-866-408-7223. Office Hours are 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday Info: www.phoenixraceway.com Schedule: Today — 11:50 a.m.-4:40 p.m.: Practice and qualifying; 4:50 p.m.: BMW race; 6 p.m.: Grand-Am Cup Grand Sport Race.
Saturday — 12:15 p.m.: Rolex Series final practice; 12:45 p.m.: BMW race; 1 p.m.: Driver autograph session in Rolex garage; 1:25 p.m.: Formula Renault 2000 race; 2:15 p.m.: Grand-Am Cup Sport Touring race; 6 p.m.: Rolex Series Food City 250.